KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 ― Who will soon forget 2016? The popular sentiment is that it has been a cruel year that has snatched away many world talents, amid ugly international socio-political developments.
Even then, talent continued to flourish among Malaysians, with many making their mark on the international stage and in a variety of fields from sports to science and entertainment.
Here are some Malaysians whom Malay Mail Online feels should be remembered for shining bright across the globe in this gloomy year of 2016:
1. Malaysia’s Olympians and Paralympians
Malaysians were left heartbroken after badminton ace Datuk Lee Chong Wei had to settle for Olympics silver in Rio this August, but it was our best haul ever with a total tally of four silvers and one bronze.
The other silver medals came from men’s badminton doubles pair Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong, mixed doubles pair Goh Liu Ying and Chan Peng Soon, and synchronised diving duo Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong. Cyclist Azizulhasni Awang won a bronze.
The disappointment was short-lived as our Paralympians brought back two gold medals and a world record the month after ― courtesy of Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi in the 100m T36 (cerebral palsy) event, and record-breaking Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli in men's shot put F20 (intellectual disability) event.
2. Making the whole world laugh
Popular votes by Malaysians managed to put stand-up comedian Harith Iskander through to grab Laugh Factory's inaugural “Funniest Person in the World” title, taking home with him in December a US$100,000 (RM 447,000) prize and a comedy tour in the United States.
There were initially 89 comedians from 56 countries vying for the title ― including fellow Malaysian comic Dr Jason Leong ― but it was narrowed down to Harith and four other finalists.
3. MotoGP champion of wet races
Motorcycle racer Khairul Idham Pawi surprised the nation when he became the first Malaysian to win a grand prix in any class, racing this April to the top spot in the Argentine Grand Prix in the Moto3 World Championship.
After becoming the youngest non-European to win a grand prix, the Perak teen nicknamed “Super KIP” became the first Malaysia with two grand prix wins after also topping the German grand prix in July.
The Muslim biker was lauded by fans back home for abstaining from the podium champagne showers. His team Honda Team Asia has now listed him to race in the higher Moto2 class in 2017.
4. Dota fanatics earn respect
Four professional Malaysian video gamers under the international Fnatic team won US$1.4 million (RM5.6 million) in prize money when they clinched the fourth spot in The International Dota 2 Championships 2016 in August.
Team captain Chai Yee Fung a.k.a Mushi led his teammates who are also in their 20s ― Adam Erwann Shah (343), Chong Xin Khoo (Ohaiyo), Yeik Nai Zheng (MidOne) and the Philippines' Djardel Jicko Mampusti (DJ).
5. Unsung STEM stars shone
Outshone by their peers who grabbed headlines with pseudo-scientific works on the supernatural, several Malaysians quietly made strides in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Among others, six Universiti Teknologi Malaysia students emerged champions in an Asia-Pacific Robot Contest in August, while Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Dr Abhimanyu Veerakumarasivam won one of the world’s biggest science communication award with his talk on genetics and cancer.
University of Glasgow’s Hafizah Noor Isa contributed to a paper confirming Einstein’s gravitational waves theory, Melbourne University’s Shu Lam discovered a game-changing alternative to antibiotics, and Penang-born Dr Muzlifah Haniffa in Newcastle University was awarded £200,000 (RM1.09 million) for her research on the immune system.
6. Free-kick wonder racks up views
With his physics-defying free-kick goal for Penang in a February match against Pahang, Kedah-born footballer Mohd Faiz Subri has beaten even football legend Lionel Messi to the top three for Fifa's Puskas Award that honours the year’s most beautiful goals.
The video of his goal has been watched over 2 million times globally, and the striker will now contend for the highest number of votes from football fans against Brazil's Jonathan Marlon Azevedo da Silva, and Venezuela's Danisuka Rodriguez. Voting will close on January 9, with the winner to be announced the same day.
7. IIUM debaters sweep regional cups
The International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) collected four trophies in a winning spree this year, led by law student Ameera Natasha Moore and Bangladesh-born economics student Mubarrat Wassey.
The team won three regional tournaments back-to-back between June and July this year: the United Asian Debating Championship, the Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championship, and then the Asian British Parliamentary Debating Championship in October.
The team capped off an illustrious year by winning the Cambridge University Intervarsity Debating Championship in November, and is currently aiming for the world’s biggest title at the World Universities Debating Championship which will end in January 2017.
8. Malaysia: World best in dodgeball, calisthenics
International glory for Malaysians this year had come from unlikely and underrated sports, with a best-showing at the World Dodgeball Federation's (WDBF) annual championships, a trophy at the Calisthenics World Cup, and gold medals in rhythmic gymnastics.
Our women' dodgeball team won gold for the first time in WDBF’s World Dodgeball Championship to become world number one, while the men's team bagged silver again.
Meanwhile, in its first outing, the five-man calisthenics team received US$10,000 (RM44,400) and a trophy after unseating defending champion Spain and nine other teams to win the international championships in December.
In February, Malaysian rhythmic gymnasts won five gold medals in their first international competition this year, the Elegant Cup in Kalamata, Greece.
9. Putting hope in the youth
Health Ministry’s Dr Mohd Lutfi Fadil Lokman was named among the 17 United Nations Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals 2016 for his work with Hospitals Beyond Boundaries, helping vulnerable communities in Cambodia.
Meanwhile, Calvin Woo Yoong Shen of the Strategic Transformation via Education Development group is the only Malaysian among the 60 recipients of the United Kingdom’s Queen’s Young Leaders Award for his work with underprivileged students.
10. Local talents rock global stage
Singer Yunalis Mat Zara'i, popularly known as Yuna, made it into the US Billboard's “10 Best R&B Albums of 2016: Critic's Picks” with her third album Chapters at 7th spot. The album debuted at No 8 and reportedly peaked at No 3 of the Billboard Adult R&B chart.
Yuna has submitted Chapters in hopes of securing a nomination for next year's Grammy Awards, while her song On Ghost Ridge is on a longlist of 91 songs for the Best Original Song category in next year's Oscars.
In November, singer Zee Avi's song Arena Cahaya ― which was produced with two other Malaysians for local film Ola Bola ― was crowned the Best Original Song at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards, an annual Taiwan film award.